It was a day that featured a little bit of everything on the 1st District campaign trail.
Republican Mark Sanford “debated” a life-size poster of House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.
Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch courted disaffected Republicans.
And while the candidates didn’t cross paths Wednesday, they went at each other with zeal.
Sanford slammed Colbert Busch for refusing to tangle with him in more than one debate and accused her of not saying what she stands for. Colbert Busch blasted Sanford over issues of trust and his record in office.
It was the liveliest day of campaigning so far in the congressional race between Colbert Busch and Sanford, who are sprinting toward the May 7 special election.
Sanford kicked off the day debating a poster of Pelosi, a political lightning rod in Republican-leaning areas such as the 1st District.
The former governor repeated his criticism of Colbert Busch for not debating him more often in their abbreviated campaign. “You can be all things to all people if you haven’t said where you are on the issues.”
A few hours later, Colbert Busch unveiled “Republicans for Elizabeth Colbert Busch” at her West Ashley headquarters. “We have to reach across the aisle,” she said. “I’m not concerned about party labels.”
There were about a half-dozen attendees at the Colbert Busch event, including two members of the new group who explained why they were backing the Democratic candidate.
A rally she held later at Burke High School was better attended, with about 200 people, mostly women, gathering at the downtown Charleston school to hear her ask for their money, volunteer time and vote.
Her 10-minute speech didn’t mention Sanford and featured few policy details. She told stories from the campaign trail and repeated her optimistic message, “Our best days are ahead.”
Faye Davis of Mount Pleasant attended and said she is enthusiastic about Colbert Busch because she’s the better candidate. “It’s not because she’s a woman,” said Davis, whose late brother-in-law, Mendel Davis, was the last Democrat to hold the 1st District seat, three decades ago.
‘Can’t be trusted’
While polls show Colbert Busch with a small lead, she is expected to need support from voters who normally vote Republican.
The chairwoman of the Republicans for Elizabeth Colbert Busch, Leslie Turner, said she most recently voted for Mitt Romney in the presidential election, but also gave $250 to Barack Obama’s presidential bid in 2007.
The group’s other member, Glenda Miller of Seabrook Island, said she voted for John Kuhn and Curtis Bostic in the recent GOP 1st District primaries. Miller cited Sanford disappearing to Argentina while he was governor as one of her reasons.
“(Sanford) can’t be trusted to seek common-sense solutions that we need to grow our economy,” Colbert Busch said. “He voted against dredging the port. He voted against building the bridge, the Ravenel bridge.”
Despite those congressional votes by Sanford, Colbert Busch donated $500 to his gubernatorial campaign in 2001.
Colbert Busch also said as governor, Sanford presided over a state unemployment rate near a record high. “He brought down our credit rating and oversaw a 37 percent loss of ‘through-put’ for our port. He also abandoned his post.”
Sanford spokesman Joel Sawyer replied, “We would love to have an opportunity to compare Governor Sanford’s record growing the economy with $24 billion in capital investment during his administration, versus her support of Nancy Pelosi’s failed policies like the stimulus. The problem is, she won’t join Governor Sanford for a televised debate to discuss these issues and many others.”
Her events followed a morning news conference where Sanford “debated” a poster of Pelosi — an event that echoed actor Clint Eastwood’s performance at the Republican National Convention, which Sanford worked as a commentator for Fox News. Eastwood debated an empty stool meant to depict Obama.
Sanford, who as governor famously brought two pigs to the Statehouse to make a point with lawmakers, has repeatedly pressed Colbert Busch for more debates. He also chastised the media for not being more pointed in pushing for more public face-offs. The two candidates will meet on stage together for the first time — and probably the only time — on Monday at The Citadel.
Sanford said a vote for Colbert Busch would also be a vote for Pelosi.
Sanford, whose event attracted reporters and a few curious passersby, said he chose the Medical University of South Carolina as a backdrop for his news conference because it was where the candidates were expected to meet for a debate last week. In the background was MUSC’s Dr. James Colbert Education Center and Library, named after Colbert Busch’s late father.
Asked if that was intentional, Sanford replied, “You guys can always find the subtleties in anything.”
Colbert Busch’s campaign issued a response afterward, calling the event part of Sanford’s “desperate campaign to deceive voters.”
“Elizabeth Colbert Busch is spending her time with real people who support her campaign,” the response said. “She doesn’t have to resort to phony cardboard cutouts to talk with the people of South Carolina.”
Afterward Sanford visited Duncan Ace Hardware in Goose Creek, where he mingled with about two dozen voters.
Sanford thanked the owners, Hugh and Gloria Duncan, for letting him drop by. They talked about how taxes and regulations affect their small business. “Taxes are a challenges for all of us,” Hugh Duncan said. “We don’t feel like we’re being picked on.”
Other conversations didn’t delve into issues but involved friendly chats and posing for photographs. Fred Holsclaw of Goose Creek gave Sanford a demonstration of a deer call whistle he made.
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.
Elizabeth Colbert Busch supporters gathered Wednesday at her campaign headquarters in West Ashley.×
Elizabeth Colbert Busch held a rally Wednesday evening for about 200 supporters at Burke High School in downtown Charleston.×
Mark Sanford’s mock debate was held outside an MUSC building named after the father of his opponent, Elizabeth Colbert Busch.×